Wednesday, July 04, 2018

Can you see..?

The morning of the 242nd Independence Day is cool and cloudy in Portland. The little house is quiet; everyone, including Nitty Kitty curled on the hard planks of the deck outside, is still asleep. I'm at the table in the front room with my coffee and my work laptop, listening to the muted sounds of the summer morning and wondering about my country.
Or, to a great extent, how much there is of "my country" that remains this day in the New Gilded Age.

Almost two years ago now I wrote about my anger and fear of the terrible course my country had embarked us all on.
"I am now too old to really hope or fear for my country. But I have hope, and fear, for my children's country. And if, having listened to the foolish ranting of this president-elect, having seen the parade of grifters, unhinged racist loons, incompetents, and Bush-era retreads he has threatened to employ, you are "happy" about that, Jim, then I'm afraid I will have to sadly lower my opinion of the pre-VOLAR SF officer selection process.

Had I lived in 1896 or 1916 I would hope that I would have been attacking the Pinkertons or the troops suppressing the striking workers. I hope I would have been writing flaming rants in the pages of the Socialist press, and excoriating the bosses and the corrupt politicians like Trump who suckle off them. I hope I would have been unhappy - hell, I hope I would have been furious! - that millions lived and died in poverty and misery so that a handful enjoyed luxury in the "land of the free".

And in 2016 I see that we have been handed over to those who would love to return to those Gilded Age days. I am unhappy and furious about that, and if it shows through the screen from this place, well...then I have done good work here."
Since that time I have seen everything I hated and feared about the unmitigated rule of the GOP come to pass. Just this past Saturday Nazis - actual Nazis! - fought street battles in my home city, not much different than the brawls the Spartakists and the Freikorps fought in the Weimar cities.

The fuck..? I have fucking freikorps in my home?

All of this leads back to the other evening when I went to a Portland Thorns match against the NWSL team from New Jersey. I got there a little late because I had work that ran long, and I was in the line for a beer when I heard the tannoy announce the entrance of the teams and the preparation for the Patriotic Ritual that We the People have - to my mind freakishly - decided with which to begin every meaningless sporting event.

And my weary thought was, well, fuck. I'm glad I don't have to stand for that and pretend to be a Hearty Patriot.

Because my nation sure doesn't feel much like the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave to me right now.
And, worse, because there seems to me to be nothing but disastrous choices open to fight the "conservative" scum whose ideal is a return to the ways and times of 1929, or 1899. I am too old and fragile - and too central to my family's security - to fight, actually fight, the Nazis in the street. My vote, coming as it does from distant blue Oregon, seems a frail reed, flattened in the storm of plutocratic, racist nativism my enemies are bringing to the battle. All I have is my words on this page, and those seem now like shouting into the empty air, unheeded and useless.

All this past month I've been reading Barbara Tuchman's The Proud Tower, her popular history of the pre-WW1 Western world. In it I'm reminded of why the New Dealers did the New Deal. The original Gilded Age and it's comet-tail that lasted until 1932 was an unspeakable horror for people like me, people without money and power, people who would have been forced to beg and scrape for a living knowing that once we were too old, or too damaged, or simply unlucky we were ensured a slow death from poverty and immiseration.

That's why the first Gilded Age was full of violent rage. Presidents, kings, ministers of state were murdered by "anarchists" who were, largely, simply men who were furious at the knowledge of that coming slow death and chose, instead, to visit quick and violent death on others they felt were responsible.

The lives and homes of most people like me were in the ever-present shadow of sickness from foul air and filthy water, from disease and injury for which they could not afford treatment. The great and the good would glide past them in effortless majesty, sleek, replete, shining and happy - at least, from afar - and healthy while all the then-me could have done was shake with impotent fury that they should be born to unearned happiness and I to relentless toil.

A friend of a Facebook friend had a snarky comment the other day about how people like me weren't "willing to give President Trump's policies time to work..." and my immediate response was "Because we don't have to give them time because we've already seen how they work, you fucking stupid Trump-humper!"

"Unlike you goddamn FOX-addicted morons we've read the histories of where the Trumpkins of the GOP want to take us. We already know what's gonna happen, how this shit ends, because We the People have done it before. Trade wars, nativism, racist immigrant-bashing, plutocracy, authoritarianism? Fucking "duh", you nitwit, where the hell else are we going when Orange Foolius and his GOP's "policies...work"?"

I feel this day much as many another generation of Americans must have felt in the 1850s, watching as a cabal of greedy, foolish, venal, ignorant, and, yes, evil neighbors drove their nation into bloody war.
And I wonder. Can this nation endure, half-FOX and half free? Or are we, this day headed where they were, where, in the words of the man who was perhaps most strongly charged with steering the nation through the ruinous result:

"All dreaded it, all sought to avert it. While the inaugural address was being delivered from this place, devoted altogether to saving the Union without war, insurgent agents were in the city seeking to destroy it without war—seeking to dissolve the Union and divide effects by negotiation. Both parties deprecated war, but one of them would make war rather than let the nation survive, and the other would accept war rather than let it perish, and the war came."

All I can say is; I do not know.

But the prospect makes me sick at heart, and leaves me with nothing by a mournful longing for the past, and the foolish innocence of my younger days, on this Independence Day.

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